Language Switcher

Tale of Genji

Statue of Murasaki Shikibu 京都
Statue of Murasaki Shikibu

Do you know the oldest novel in the world?

It is “The Tale of Genji” in Japan.

It is said to have been written by the author, Murasaki Shikibu, over a long period of time, and is considered to be the greatest masterpiece in the history of Japan literature.

In this year’s taiga drama “To the Radiant Prince”, Yuriko Yoshitaka plays the life of Murasaki Shikibu.

The Tale of Genji is attracting a lot of attention, but some people may say, “Classical literature is a bit difficult …”, so that those who have avoided it until now.

So I would love to tell you charm of this story. At the same time, I would like to introduce places related to The Tale of Genji and make people interested in the novels that Japan is proud of, which were written more than a thousand years ago.

Everything is foggy

The Tale of Genji, which consists of 54 stories, features about 430 characters, most of whom are unnamed.

Even the title of the book, “The Tale of Genji,” was not given by Murasaki Shikibu.

So who put it on?

It is said that it was later named after the name of the flower that the fan appeared in the story.

In the first place, in the Heian period, nobles of high status called each other by their official position because it was considered impolite to call them by name. Therefore, most of the characters in The Tale of Genji do not have clear names.

About 800 Waka poems

The aristocracy of the Heian period would send words of love and feelings at that time to their partners in waka poems. And the number of waka poems that appear in The Tale of Genji is 795! There are about 800 waka poems in the book.

By the way, here is my favorite.

Dear cherry blossom, if you consider with my feeling, please bloom to black color this year.

It is originally a waka that appears in ancient and modern waka poetry collections, but it is also known for the waka poem that Hikaru Genji wrote when his first love died.

He is in the depths of grief after losing his first love. He continues to have feelings that he can’t confide
in anyone, and even now that she’s gone, there’s no one to confess them to.

The only thing he wanted to share his thoughts with was the cherry blossoms blooming in the garden. It’s
a very sad poem, but the cherry blossoms in full bloom without knowing such feelings while
Hikaru Genji is grieving.

This is one of my favorite waka poem that brings to mind such a sad scene. I believe that the reason why the four seasons of Kyoto are so beautiful and why it is a city like no other in the world is that people in the past loved spring, summer, autumn, and winter, and they loved it by leaving it in waka poetry.


Isn’t it one of the charms of The Tale of Genji that various princesses appear?

“Fujitsubo” is his first love, “Yugao” is said to have been superimposed on him by the middle-class Murasaki Shikibu, and “Murasaki no ue”, which he loved the most.

By the way, my favorite is “Moon Night”. It was a series of forbidden love and later brought tragedy to him. I even felt respect for him imposing appearance when his secret meeting with her is found by her father.

There is also a rare case in which Hikaru Genji, who was mainly attracted to the class and appearance of women, felt for the unusual.

That is a woman named “Suetsumu hana”. Although her status was not low, she lost her support and lived a simple life.

On a snowy morning, he was shocked by her ugliness when he saw her appearance. After that, there was a terrible incident, and for several years, he did not see her.

How long can you wait for someone who hasn’t heard anything from you?

She waited patiently for several years. And when they met again, he was touched by her unwavering feelings.

Unusually among the women that he was in love with, he was attracted to Suetsumu hana’s “personality”.


Located to the east of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Murasaki Shikibu is said to have written The Tale of Genji at Rozanji-temple. There was once a residence of Murasaki Shikibu here, and later the temple was relocated.

From the rainy season to summer, bellflowers bloom in the “Genji Garden”. It’s a very small temple, but it’s quaint to think that the world’s oldest novel, The Tale of Genji, was written here.

There are many other places in Kyoto that are related with The Tale of Genji.

The Kamo Festival (now the Aoi Festival) depicted in the ninth “Aoi” is a festival of the World Heritage Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine, and the Nonomiya Shrine in Arashiyama is where he came to see the Rokujo princess incognito. And what is surprising is that there is a real tile called “Tomb of Yugao” in the city. It is a novel (fiction) The Tale of Genji, but it is said that the ardent fans built it.


At first glance, The Tale of Genji seems to be a sparkling love story, in which a fabulous
playboy, Hikaru Genji falls in love with many women.

But this is what Murasaki Shikibu wanted to say through the story is I think she wanted to focus to be on the women who were living in that era.

In the Heian period, having a daughter become the wife of the emperor and giving birth to a child was considered to be the most powerful thing for the male aristocracy at that time. Women who were used in the politics of the men who lived there.

I feel that there is a dissatisfaction with the way women are treated in The Tale of
Genji. Because I felt that among the princesses in The Tale of Genji, there was not a single
woman who seemed happy. Even “Murasaki no ue”, who was most loved by Hikaru Genji,
tried to become a nun away from him because of the pain of his relationship with women.

Why don’t you read the “thoughts” of Murasaki Shikibu hidden behind the sparkling love
story through waka poems and stories?